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Top 3 “Hot” Critters of Bunaken

March 16, 2014

The Underwater Tribe Underwater Photo Workshop is coming up this May and we have just a few spots still available.  We will be heading to North Sulawesi for an outstanding 12 days diving in Lembeh Strait and the Bunaken Marine Park.

After the annual rainy season, from December to March, during which time the water is rich with nutrients, the diving in the area is at its best because the critters have been well fed!  Coming at the beginning of the dry season, May is one of the best months to visit the Bunaken Marine Park as this is when the mating season begins.

This gives us the chance to see congregations of the same species of critters as they are out in search of suitable mates.   This is one of the main reasons why we have chosen May as the period to conduct the workshop: beautiful weather and abundant critters.

Here is a short description of the Top 3 “Hot Critters” that we hope to find during our six days of diving in the Bunaken National Park.

Image of hippocampus pontohi

A pregnant hippocampus pontohi

1) The Hippocampus Pontohi

This tiny seahorse is one of the most sought after critters in the whole Marine Park, it’s quite common and can be found in two color

variations:  the yellow head with white belly variety or a dark brown variety. It lives on small hydroids and it prefers areas near elephant

ear sponges. The size of a mature individual is approximately 1.5 to 2cm; the tail is almost as long as the body as it needs to wrap it around the branches of hydroids to avoid being torn away when the current gets strong. A difficult subject to spot due to its size, it really helps to have the well trained “eagle eyed” guides of the area on hand to find them.

This is quite a difficult critter to photograph and requires a fast macro lens like the 60mm or the 100mm. The addition of a diopter can make this subject even harder to photograph as it tends to swing right and left with just a tiny amount of surge. However, a sharp

super-macro photo of this subject can bring great satisfaction to the photographer.

2) The Velvet Ghost Pipefish

Image of a pair of Velvet Ghost Pipefish

A Pair of Velvet Ghost Pipefish, the one on the right is pregnant.

This beautiful ghost pipefish seems to come and go at different times in the waters of Bunaken with May and June being the months during which it’s easiest to find, especially around the walls of East Bunaken. It lives among red Halimeda sea grass and it favours flat

areas near overhangs. The size is approximately 5 to 15 cm and they are often found in pairs.

The Velvet Ghost Pipefish is best photographed with a macro lens such as the 60mm or 100mm lenses. The subject is easier to photograph than the Hippocampus pontohi, however, it does have a penchant for turning its back to the camera!  Patience is required to shoot this subject. With the naked eye it looks to be the same color of the seagrass in which it makes its home, but when lit up with a strobe or torch, it’s actually a beautiful deep red or scarlet colour.

3) The Candy Crab or Soft Coral Crab

Image of a Soft Coral Crab

A Soft Coral Crab or Candy crab with a black background

Another tiny and fascinating critter, that requires the help of a skilled dive guide to find, is the Candy Crab which is also known as the Soft Coral Crab.  It lives in soft corals and likes to hide by pulling one of the many tiny branches of the coral over itself. Adults measure approximately 2cm and it’s a master of camouflage; it’s able to place pieces of soft corals on itself that continue to grow. There are several colour variations of this crab, which depends on the host soft corals’ colour, often red, purple, orange, or yellow.

The Soft Coral Crab can be a very tough subject to photograph as the body is mainly bright white and it’s easy to overexpose the white portions. As many soft corals hang from vertical walls, it’s possible to photograph this subject toward the water column to achieve a nice black background. Super Macro works great with these crabs as well.

Those are three of the top critters we will be looking to photograph during the second portion of our Underwater Tribe Photo Workshop in Bunaken. We will be discussing the best techniques to achieve great results, as well as reviewing our shots afterward, in order to improve our photos for the next opportunity with these addictive critters.

Time is flying by and the workshop is happening soon! If you would like to receive more information about it please contact us at

This article was written by Luca Vaime who lived in the Bunaken area for 6 years managing two top dive resorts in the National Park.

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